Four substantial, student-led sustainability projects are gaining momentum on the University of Michigan campus, thanks to financial support from the new Planet Blue Student Innovation Fund. Announced by President Mary Sue Coleman last fall as part of her larger campus sustainability address, the Planet Blue Student Innovation Fund offers grants of up to $50,000 annually for projects that reduce the university's environmental footprint and/or promote a culture of sustainability on campus.
Out of 22 concept proposals submitted for consideration late in the winter term, the following four were recently selected for Planet Blue Student Innovation Fund awards:
- Reusable Containers Program. Expected to launch in fall 2012, this pilot program will offer a reusable alternative to disposable take-out containers at the U-Club of the Michigan Union. After use, containers will be dropped off and washed at the union, cutting down significantly on the waste produced from takeout containers. The team consists of Erb Institute for Global Sustainable Enterprise master's students Phel Meyer, Rich Grousset and David Yang.
- Bike Air Pumps and Fix-It Station. Also with a projected fall 2012 launch date, this project aims to enhance the accessibility of biking on campus through the installation of public air pumps on both the central and north campuses, the installation of a fix-it station with bike repair tools, and the development of repair workshops in collaboration with Common Cycle. The project leader is Arielle Fleisher, a master's student in the School of Public Health.
- Sustainable Food Kiosk. This student team—which introduced a pilot food cart in the Chemistry Building on April 13—hopes to increase access to sustainable food on campus by running a food kiosk offering locally grown or sourced produce and grocery staples on a weekly basis. The long-term goal is to be financially self-sufficient from food sales and to eventually transition into a permanent, student owned and operated food co-op. Team leaders include master's students Cynthia Shih of the Erb Institute and Alex Green of the Ross School of Business, undergraduate student Stacy Matlen of the Program in the Environment, and Ph.D. candidate Nicole Kasper, School of Public Health. Additional student committee members include John Graham, Cassandra Malis and Alicia Chiaravalli.
- U-M Campus Farm. This proposed student-run campus farm would be located at the Matthaei Botanical Gardens, where participating students would learn about agriculture and food systems and, long term, possibly harvest fruits and vegetables for campus residence halls or the food kiosk mentioned above. The award is for start-up money only and is dependent on development of a long-term operational model that is financially viable. This team is led by Lindsey MacDonald, a master's student in the School of Natural Resources and Environment and Program in the Environment undergraduate Lauren Beriont.
"We received high-impact proposals from some real sustainability superheroes at the university, and they covered a wide range of sustainability improvements for the campus," said physics undergraduate Sam Schiebold, who sits on the Planet Blue Student Innovation Fund Review Board, which selects the awardees. "In the end, priority went to projects that were deemed most innovative, visible, and transformative in nature."
Other criteria for receiving monetary support from the Planet Blue Student Innovation Fund, which Coleman has committed to fund for three consecutive years, include factors such as student involvement and interest, economic payback, and partnerships facilitated within the U-M community of students, staff and faculty.
The fund itself was the result of a project idea from the undergraduate Sustainability and the Campus class, further emphasizing the student-driven nature of the initiative.
"It is so important that students have a voice as to what they want their campus to look like," Schiebold said. "And students want to it look and be green!"
Fellow Planet Blue Student Innovation Fund Review Board member and Program in the Environment student Abby Krumbein concurs.
"The Planet Blue Student Innovation Fund is an incredible opportunity to advance the conversation of sustainability on campus—and to empower students to create the sustainable campus they envision."